by the Globe and Mail‘s Gary Mason
A couple of years ago, I flew to Whitehorse for the opening of the Canada Winter Games. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in town and, as a columnist with The Globe and Mail, I was sent to chronicle his time in the Yukon capital.
It was my second visit to Whitehorse. I had breezed through town once before with a bunch of retired NHL hockey players. We stayed one night to play a charity game and afterwards I would end up drinking beer with Tiger Williams at the High Country Inn until the early hours of the morning.
But that’s another story.
During my trip here for the Winter Games, I visited the main media centre at the Gold Rush Inn. I was soon introduced to the volunteer in charge, Darrell Hookey, who, I would learn, was the editor of a fine entertainment paper in Whitehorse called What’s Up Yukon.
Over the next few days I probably talked to Darrell five or six times. Maybe 20 minutes in total. I recall telling him how I hoped to one day visit the Yukon in the summer – maybe the minus 40-degree temperatures during my visit had something to do with that.
Anyway, long story short: two years later I received an e-mail from Darrell. He and his partner, Daisy, were heading out of town for three weeks in July and he had a proposal: how about house sitting while they were away? I could use their place (and his truck) as a sort of base camp from which to explore the Yukon.
It was too good to refuse.
Now the story of Darrell’s remarkable offer is important for two reasons. One, it explains how it came to be that I was able to spend two unbelievable weeks in the Yukon last month. Two, it serves as a vivid illustration of one of my primary findings during my time there.
As it turns out, the warm hospitality extended by Darrell and Daisy to someone they barely knew is not unique in the Yukon. In fact, it seems to be something a visitor can expect. I’ve been lucky enough to travel pretty much around the world and I’ve yet to meet people as friendly and welcoming as Yukoners.
The gestures of help and assistance offered me during my stay are too numerous to catalogue here. But the people know who they are and I can’t thank them enough. And to those whose kind invitations I wasn’t able to accept because of time constraints, all I can say is “next time.”
Because there will definitely be a next time.
During my two weeks in the Yukon I saw my first grizzly bear in the wild. And the biggest black bear I’ve ever seen in my life – with two beautiful cubs in tow. After the three of them lazily crossed the road in front of me I couldn’t move for minutes, so mesmerized was I by the experience.
Kluane National Park offered up the most spectacular scenery I have seen anywhere. Dawson City has a charm all its own – and I hope it never changes.
Since I’ve been home many people have asked me about my time in the North. I talk about the scenery and wildlife and, of course, the people. But I don’t think I’ve yet adequately conveyed to anyone just how at peace I felt while I was there, how remarkably comfortable I was literally minutes after stepping off the plane.
And I think that’s the Yukon’s attraction. Yes, it can get cold and dark in the winter. And the summers aren’t nearly long enough. But it offers people something they can’t get anywhere else. It lies deep within the territory’s vastness and resounding beauty. It is almost spiritual and assuredly rare.
I loved the feeling, which is why I can’t wait to return.